Dear “Miss Beznik” (as he used to call you),
That conversation was not normal. I realize you were just a silly fourteen-year-old girl at the time, but it was not normal.
Your first indication should have been that day you and he were in the computer lab hashing out the terms of your independent study class. Yes, he did you a favor getting you freed from that World Studies class that was intended for the kids with unique learning needs that you were forced to enroll in because it was the only space you had in your schedule. However, when those girls in the computer lab asked you how long it took you to grow your hair down past your waist (six years), and he commented on how beautiful long hair was -- you should have known. It should have been abundantly clear that none of this was normal when he then said he once stopped to get gas at Chevron and became so distracted by the “beauty of the gas station cashier brushing her hair out in the morning sun” that he forgot to get gas.
But, no. You tried to rationalize it as the way a teacher might speak to a “gifted” (the school’s word for you) student. Sharing personal anecdotes about watching women brush their hair unbeknownst to them is completely normal, right?
How did you not think him tracking you down in the middle of the school day to come out to his car “to give you some books” wasn't a bit weird? Especially when one of those books was a historical romance he thought you would enjoy because it was “full of murder and sex, lots of sex.”
In hindsight, he probably got you to let your guard down by beginning that infamous conversation by flattering you with the college talk. How you were smart enough to go to his wife’s alma mater--a women's college. He helped warm you up by letting words like “shit” and “fuck” slip as he got more excited about talking of your collegiate possibilities. Teachers didn't say words like shit and fuck to students.
And then, while you were quietly musing about what these verbal slips meant, he abruptly changed the topic.
“Has anyone ever told you that you have very well-aligned features?”
You replied slowly, “No, I can't say they have.”
He continued, “Well, let me rephrase this. There's this group of people in my area of teaching gifted students that believe that some are born genetically ‘perfect.’ Like the Greeks--more than well-rounded, Homeric. Hitler had a thing like that going on.”
Your look of bewilderment must have said it all.
“Anyway, I don't know what kind of lines I'm crossing, but you’re physically attractive.”
Your stomach twisted, and the heat rose up your face. You wished you could melt into that scratchy-upholstered library chair that he had cornered you in while you were attempting to do research for the paper you were writing for the independent study class he was overseeing.
He had tried to catch your gaze. His brown disheveled hair flopped into his eyes.
But you stared past him to the Muppets poster tacked to the library wall of Miss Piggy poised on a stack of books reaching for a book on a higher shelf, wearing a schoolmarm outfit while jauntily kicking up one heel. At her feet, Kermit is absorbed in an open book on his lap perched on top of a pile of books at her feet.
“I just don't want you to go through high school thinking you're plain. When you get out of here I don't want you to be surprised that people find you attractive.”
Your breath came short as you tried to fully absorb this bizarre monologue.
Being the naive child you were, you were flattered by this. Certainly no boy, no man—no woman—had ever called you attractive.
I wonder sometimes if this conversation is the reason, 20-something years later, you still haven't cut your hair.
What if short hair makes me look ugly?
I wonder if it's why you still let men get away with bizarre and sometimes lewd comments about you.
That client and the “joke” about guessing the color of my panties.
I wonder why all these years later you still let it chew at you. Why do you sometimes Google his name trying to track him down? What exactly would you do if you ran into him at the grocery store even though it appears he has moved half the world away?
I want to know if I was the only one.
It’s OK, little girl. It wasn't normal. I'm sorry he felt it was OK to tell you he found you, his student, attractive.
It's OK that the smell of patchouli, the scent he doused himself in daily, still makes you uncomfortable now when you catch a random whiff.
But that conversation exposed you early to the bullshit that would later mean you filed a complaint with HR against your boss for knowingly exposing you to a particular randy client. It meant you would have no problem giving the finger to those truckers that used to honk and holler at you on your walk home from work when you were eight months pregnant.
He’s gone now. It’s time to let go of that knot you’ve been carrying around about that conversation for all these years now. It’s done.
You, 20-something years in the future
Kate Beznik lives in Alaska. She pushes paper professionally by day and fancies herself a creative person outside of normal business hours. This is her first submitted piece for publication.